In this rich and fascinating history, Susan Schulten tells a story of Americans beginning to see the world around them, tracing U.S. attitudes toward world geography from the end of nineteenth-century exploration to the explosion of geographic interest before the dawn of the Cold War. Focusing her examination on four influential institutions—maps and atlases, the National Geographic Society, the American university, and public schools—Schulten provides an engaging study of geography, cartography, and their place in popular culture, politics, and education.
University of Denver historian Schulten offers a well-documented account of how politics, history and culture influenced the study and presentation of geography from 1880, when maps first became widely available, to 1950, the beginning of the Cold War. She focuses on four distinct presences within America's geographical community: university geographers, primary and secondary school geographers, the National Geographic and its editors, and commercial producers of maps and atlases. More academician than storyteller, Schulten writes unadorned prose; this style is effective, however, as she argues her major theme, that geography over this period directly reflected political and cultural ideology. Schulten's chronicle of the rise of the National Geographic under visionary editor Gilbert Grosvenor is insightful, especially when discussing the paradox created by Grosvenor's editorial policy of presenting readers "pleasant information," designed to provide "mental relaxation without emotional stimulus." This policy led the magazine to depict favorably what it designated as the "progressive" changes in Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Equally interesting is the discussion of the power of maps, "the silent arbiter(s) of power." Specifically, her analysis of the symbolic message embedded in the Mercator projection, that flat world map familiar to schoolchildren past and present picturing the United States safely centered between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, far from the mysterious East and troubling West, brings new perspective to the latent political statements maps make by their design. Another strength of this book is the richness of the historical and political record Schulten utilizes to explicate her major themes. Theory is wisely balanced by a hodgepodge of odd and interesting facts about maps, politics and American cultural trends. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.